Urška Starc Peceny, PhD

Urška Starc Peceny, PhD

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015, Local lead Vienna, Austria
CEE Community & Communication Coordinator

Grown up in a family business nest, education in Slovenia, Italy and Austria, Phd in Business communication,  6+ languages, 20+ years working experience as journalist-PR-Marketing … she calls it Communication & Storytelling of Innovation & the New in Europe and Middle East.

But of all titles Urška likes to be Lead Butterfly. To inspire and get inspired.

From coincidence to Marssimulation
Urška met Irena Chaushevska at the European Patent Office in Munich, where she was organizing an event that time as a member of the RealMakers. “We’ve remained in touch to discuss possible cooperation in other projects.” 
It was a kind of crazy very short-termed proposal when Irena addressed her to take over as NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015 lead for Vienna, but she is used of oddity. When she was 9 her family started the first family business in the country before it was even legally allowed. “My father is an entrepreneur, a real one. I have this in my blood, if I want it or not.” she laughs, “From the moment I decide to do something, I just focus on how to make best of it.” With this spirit she has taken also over as the NASA Space Apps Challenge CEE Community & Communication Coordinator.

NASAWien1A coincidence, that same moment when Irena approached her she got an invitation to an event at INiTS, the Business University Incubator of Vienna. A perfect match as host! And so has started the adventure which will finish in an incredible way; Austrian Space Forum will host the Vienna winning team at the highest ever analog Mars simulation at the Kaunertal glacier and at the AMADEE-15 Marssimulation Mission Support Center in Innsbruck. “That’s so cool, I should consider to compete, not organize the event!” she laughs again.

It is difficult on such a short term, but Urška and Irene Fialka, head of the INiTS, and her team are working hard to make a special experience for everyone. Being involved in innovation, she has been mainly working with male colleagues in her life. “I love this spirit with Irene Fialka here, Irena and her ladies in Macedonia and other leads around CEE.”

Vienna, a place to be
Vienna is just the place to be right now, ranking at 6th place as startup dome and 1st place worldwide for the city quality of life. But it has not always been like that. In 2002 Urska happened to move to Vienna. “Love is blind,” she adds, “I actually wanted to US after my PhD, but September 11 happened.” Although living in Vienna, she preferred to co-found a business in Slovenia and Italy and then in Dubai … before thinking of Vienna. “Now a young foreigner with innovative ideas is cool, can easily find support. That time one was just a crazy foreigner … and felt like that.”

Now the Austrian state supports the innovation development, good small and big players are growing, prestigious events taking place – is there anything missing? “The sea,” smiles Urška, born at the Slovenian coast of Istria. “Maybe the right question is not what is missing, but what’s next?”

Life before and after pitching
It is very promising reading all the stories about start-ups and small and medium sized enterprises creating new jobs and saving the economy. But it might not work on long-term, if we don’t give people all the competences to deal with the reality. “We all know what to do, if we cut ourselves. Every kid takes Band-Aids and protects the physical injury. But we have no idea how to deal with the failure or any other emotional injuries which start-upers face all the time. Or how to deal with success. It’s not only about the pitch, but also about life before and after that.”

Really a topic for the disruptive innovators? “I also thought, ah, who cares, no time for romantics when you fund,” she says, but times have changed. For 10 years nobody was talking about burnout and this stuff, today is different. She gives an example of the Jerry Colonna’s session at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna last year, “A big hall at the imperial palace full with digital multi-taskers, persons who on average at least tweet, chat and listen to the music at the same time. At least. And Jerry is talking about burn out. Anybody interested in this uncool topic? At the Pioneers Festival? The hall was full and at the end there was a complete silence, people … listening. Just listening. I was astound.”
Apparently a topic that matters to pioneers.

Entrepreneurship as state of mind
Urška had the honor to interview the finalists of the European Inventor Award last year in Berlin. She talked to the inventors of 3D printer, QR-code, of the new filter converting salt water to drinkable water, Mr. Arthur Fischer and amazing persons like that who were asked about what is important in the innovation process. Nobody put money at first place, “Yes, it’s one element, but not the only and the most important one,” she learnt from them.

And, that many think innovation must be something big. “Very often the biggest innovation is just not repeating the same mistake(s).”

She believes that many good changes would happen, if we would focus on development of entrepreneurs and not so much on start-ups. “Being an entrepreneur is a state of mind for every aspect of life, not only the business one,” she explains. 
Through The GoodList.eu initiative that she has started she is coming in touch with many start-ups willing to combine the ‘for profit’ and ‘non-profit’. “This is really crazy, everyone is talking about being innovative, creating new companies and then it is impossible here in Europe for entrepreneurs to have a simple form which legally gives them the space for both to care for the impact and profit.”

The young and old elephants
Another issue that she finds very important: the gap between start-ups and corporations, between young and old.
Uf“I was at the Fear&Fail event some weeks ago and heard from another speaker, Michael Vogler, an incredible story,” she starts excited.

The story about the young elephants brought to a natural park in South Africa to attract more visitors. Visitors came, but elephants were very disruptive; ruining everything and killing other animals. What to do? The authorities wanted to kill the young elephants, but then the Wise of the local tribe suggested to bring an old elephant. And an old elephant was brought. Everyone expected it to put younger under pressure, to ‘adjust’ them, but it did nothing of that. It was on its own eating grass and conducting life of an elephant. Nothing else. People got nervous, but after a short time noticed that young elephants were not aggressive anymore and found a coexistence with the ecosystem.

“Not teaching, judging, trying to change … just being an example. A good example. This is the role of an old elephant. Maybe a story for the many self-proclaimed angels and other saints around start-ups, to help them better understand their role.”

Stories will always be
What about the future, we wanted to hear.
“I’m mother of three kids between 4 and 10 now and in 2025 the older will hopefully talk with me (again) and the younger teenagers will probably ignore me.” she smiles, “No technology can change that.” 
Coming to her area of work, “We will still tell and consume information collected in entities awaking emotions. And by the same story some persons will have one reaction and other a different one, because we humans have and will have different natures. Which is good, because innovation needs diversity.” Exactly that has been her focus last years,

“How to treasure from diversity instead of ruining it with ‘equality for every price’. Plus how to walk the innovation and storytelling hand in hand. Smart cities need smart communities and smart spirit… Technology is only the mean. In 2025 we will have Content Hubs around and Europe will regain the role in ‘life innovation’ that it already had in history. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Every flap matters
Urška hopes that we will get smart enough to focus on things that really matter. She likes the examples from the nature, for example the Butterfly effect, the theory by meteorologist Edward Lorenz saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can cause or prevent a hurricane in another part of the world.

“There are seemingly insignificant acts that shape our destinies. Talking about entrepreneurship; every flap matters, if we want it or not.” she explains. “With all the brain research taking place, it will be thrilling to be a storyteller in the future.” she pauses and adds with a smile, “A Lead Butterfly … and then, one day, an old elephant.”

Vera Nunić

Vera Nunić

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015, Local lead Ljubljana, Slovenia

The driving force of a startup center, with business background and mission to help technological ideas grow into real innovation – those which make a difference for the user.

Vera Nunić lives in Slovenia, that wonderful land with love in its name. But beside love and lovely, Slovenia above all is small. 2 million people, “If you turn once, you know the half and if you turn twice, you know everyone.” Vera smiles. And this brings some specifics also in the innovation world.

Give young people the chance to create
Vera is head of the start-up center at the Technology Park Ljubljana, Slovenia. She met Irena Chausevska  some time ago as they were discussing possible collaboration between the NewMan’s Business Accelerator and the Technology Park. And now she jumped in last second as organizer of the NASA Space Apps Challenge in Slovenia. For more reasons.

“We are connected with all institutions here around, from Institute Jožef Štefan, university and on the other site we host start-ups with technological solutions. The Space Apps Challenge is the perfect way to bring all together. It is the first time for this one, but we have organized hackathons, startup weekends and similar events before and I love the idea to give young people the possibility to create new ideas which have an added value. To help them make difference, to help them make better future for all of us.”

Not every new idea is an innovation yet
Vera is talking from experience. More than 12 years in business and last 6 years specialized in startup support. She is aware of the difficulties that face especially innovators with technological background. “As long as they don’t get that it is not about the solution, but about how bringing it into market and what value it makes for the user, it is difficult.” And Slovenia has a history of so called laboratory innovation. Research starts in the laboratory for the sake of researching and then just in second step comes the relevance for the market, for its user.

“Some ideas are just not relevant. And this hurts. Many researchers wait much too long to face it.” It’s a pity. In the mean time they might have been working on a new idea, with perhaps more potential.

Having companies already working with NASA in the Park, they plan to invite them to serve as mentors fort he participants. Everyone is welcomed, “I would suggest those with some existing ideas to come and bring them forward and those without, just to come and get connected, know other persons and teams. These are things that are relevant for the breakthrough from and idea to innovation.”

Helping user’s pain
How would she explain a 5 year old child what is she doing, we want to know. She laughs. That challenges her as any other start up its pitch!
“Working with very interesting, smart, innovative persons on new projects. Foster their creativity adding it to the existing knowledge and help make their ideas real,”.
A little too complex for a 5 year old?
“An example might be an empty sandbox for children, who come with their ideas and do something new, something that leaves their own mark. But everyone uses the example with the sandbox …”
No worries for Vera, she has an eleven years daughter and the second child just coming in May. So she will have another chance to figure out how to explain a child the complex processes of fostering innovation.

Fun by side. Vera uses an interesting metaphor to describe innovation, “You have to know what user’s problem is, what is his or her pain and how your idea solve that problem. Does it give an added value or not? Such, that a user would pay for it?”

Slovenia, the world of innovators and unrealized projects

Slovenians are top-world engineers, but the majority of projects remains in the drawer and never meets the market. People innovate for sake of innovating and don’t step out, to meet the customers and to face the needs. “One more reason to organize this kind of Challenges as the Space Apps. To foster building teams with people of different profiles and skills.”

A trend that also established companies in Slovenia are approaching. No corporations, because, “There are no real corporations here, we have bigger companies which of course also need to react. But it is much easier to approach them as a really big corporation. Slovene big companies are looking for cooperations, offering mentorship and opening already on their own.”

Everyone can learn to pitch
Also the state is positive toward innovation, it even funds it. To be honest, mostly the old approach which Vera and her team would love to change, “We need to switch from the laboratory focused innovation into the US approach in which the first question is the real added value,” she stays firm, “and help all those many projects to come out of the closets.”
To help that they offer couching and trainings for pitching, which is such an issue especially for people with IT background.
“I believe that everyone can learn that. These skills can be learnt.” So, no excuses.

With wishes of a beauty contest
Vera is very proud of her team, because they all live the same dream and strive for the same goals. They believe that Slovenia can become a world comparable ecosystem for start up business built around open-innovation and fostering international integration and visibility.

What about the world in 2025, we wanted to know.
“We live in a technology centered development and I believe that this will lead us also in the future. 2025 is relatively close, but the technological advances are taking place with great intensity and speed, both in terms of ICT fields, medicine, genetics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, new materials, as well as from the perspective of environmental technologies. I only wish that we will use them for the right things.”

Not very positive for an expecting mum. Where is the pregnancy happiness hormone drive?
There she is laughing again.
“And as every miss of a beauty context puts it, I wish the peace in the world and all people to be happy. And I wish we will learn to use the technology for the right reasons and give more respect to things that are really important.”

DECAone – 2nd place worldwide in 2014

DECAone – 2nd place worldwide in 2014

To start with the right spirit. At NASA Space Apps Challenge everyone is a winner! We’re working on challenges concerning us all, for both space exploration and life on Earth. But to be honest, there is also some competition to make it more exciting. And we can be proud of the European impact in that.

With challenges getting published, this year exploration field is open. To have a better feeling on how and what we have talked to the local winners in Skopje and the second placed on global level last year. So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome the DECAone dream team: Suad Saliu, Jovan Andonov, Blerant Ramadani, Artan Ramani and Visar Zejnullahu.

Did the team members meet before the event?
Yes, we have made meetings before the event. We wanted to have enough time to consult about our work.

What profiles have the team members?
We were all students from Computer Science, Mechanical and Electrotechnical faculty.

Previous experience by hackathons?
Not really.

What were you working on?
We were working on Take the Earth On a Hike: Offline Access To Remote Sensing Data challenge.

What was your solution about?
Our project aimed to achieve wireless remote transfer data, access on information about the area while offline. We planed to achieve this by locating base stations on different areas on the Earth, which would be provided with hard drives and communicate with the user. The base stations would be charged with electricity by different power sources, including renewable energy sources when proper. The base stations would be able to operate even on others planets.

What have you liked most about the event?
The fact that around 100 countries were competing at the same time.

Has the event had an impact at your life? How?
Yes, especially at business life, it opened us a lot of business opportunities.

What would you suggest participants considering to take part?
Take part of this great event! Choose a challenge and then work hard on the problems. And most important, believe in yourselves, believe that you can make an impact and give people a better place to live!

What is innovation for you?
Giving a solution to one problem or improve an already existing solution.

What do you think about the state of innovation in Macedonia?
The ecosystem for innovation here in Macedonia is on a poor level. Big organizations and institutions like NASA surely can help here with this kind of events. But the real difference will happen when the relevant local institutions orientate their energy to this sphere. After that we can make an impact.

Are you going to be part of the event this year again?
Not sure yet. We’re waiting for the challenges. If we have good solution to some problem, why not.

Azir Aliu and Edmond Etemi

Azir Aliu and Edmond Etemi

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015, Local leads Tetovo, Macedonia

Tetovo is a city in the northwestern part of Macedonia, built on the foothills of Šar Mountain and divided by the Pena River. This year is a new location by the NASA Space Apps Challenge lead by Azir Aliu and Edmond Etemi.

“We have received the invitation by Irena and are thrilled to be part of this story,” tells us Azir Aliu, Chief Executive Officer of SEEUTechPark which is a technology park located on South East European University campus. “SEEUTechPark opened on May 15, 2013 by the Board of South East European University in order to create conditions to stimulate the creation of new start-up companies, creating a synergy between the companies and encourage the growth of existing SMEs which in the long term provides new job opportunities,” explains Azir.

A learning path
Edmond, who holds a bachelor in Computer Science and has been working at the park for three years first as an Administrator and now as Chief Operating Officer explains us that they live every day with the challenge of bringing young students with different kind of profiles in one place. “Our mission is to give them the opportunity to bring ideas to life. Whatever the result, it is a move forward.”
Azir agrees, “To fail doesn’t mean that one is not successful. It is the learning path and the way to learn for the future steps.”

Therefore they are proud to bring the Space Apps Challenge to them. A great possibility to learn, “I encourage everyone to attend this event by bringing their creativities and improvements to work,” invites Edmond innovative souls from Tetovo and surrounding to co-create solutions for challenges relevant to both space exploration and life on Earth.

Bringing ideas into life
Innovation is an important topic in Tetovo, of course. How would Azir and Edmond describe it actually? Both pause for a while to think. “For me, innovation is bringing creative ideas into life.”says Edmond then.
What are the biggest issues with bringing innovative ideas into life in Macedonia, we want to know. “The challenge to create a community of Technological Parks, R&D centers, areas of innovation and universities through which young entrepreneurs, researchers and companies can turn these ideas and improvements into action and production.” says Azir who is very much involved in this process, he talks from experience.

They both see their park as one part of the solution. “We’re doing our best to make this happen!” Edmond concludes.

Pitching and the small box
In the whole ecosystem of fostering the innovative ideas into real innovations plays pitching an important role. They both believe that pitching is a science. Coming up with good and creative ideas is hard enough, but convincing others to invest in them is even harder. “It turns out that the problem has as much to do with the seller’s traits as with an idea’s inherent quality,” Edmond starts,“The first thing to realize when you’re preparing to make a pitch to strangers is that your audience is going to put you into a small box, but you need to know that they’re going to do it really fast.”
For this reason they offer support for pitching and all other skills required for innovators to create the ideas but bring them then also forward.

Interconnected geographies
What about the future, how will this be? We have two experts dealing with cutting-edge technologies with us. “In 2025 we will have everything, from cars to homes that respond to your every wish. The development of the artificial intelligence will allow appliances that think for themselves,” Aziz starts to paint the picture of the future. They look to each other and then Edmond adds, “Not to forget the interconnected geographies! From the most remote farmlands to bustling cities – we will all be digitally directed. Imagine all the continents digitally connected.”
They both believe that this will happen, not in the far future, but already in 2025.